It’s never been more important to focus on cancer prevention

A younger woman and an older woman share a hug

With an ageing population, cancer cases predicted to increase from 17 million to 30 million by 2040 and rising levels of overweight and obesity, it’s never been more important to focus on cancer prevention. Over 40% of cancers could be prevented if we all lived healthy lifestyles, including maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet.

But what does this mean in practice? Every day we’re bombarded with information about what’s healthy and what isn’t. It can be confusing and seem contradictory: what’s missing is the context – how do all the disparate pieces fit together to make a coherent picture?

That’s where our Global Cancer Update Programme, formerly known as the Continuous Update Project, comes in. This huge undertaking pulls the puzzle pieces together to show how what we eat, what we weigh and how active we are all affect our risk of cancer. The Expert Panel overseeing the process then use that information to develop Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.

A while back I wrote about how this work was moving into a new and exciting phase of development. This new phase has now started and the programme has changed in a number of ways. It’s more:

  • targeted – looking at specific research questions such as early life exposures and their impact on cancer risk later in life.
  • collaborative – to increase the reach and scope of the work a number of collaborations with leading international research groups will take place that focus on specific areas such as dietary patterns and the life course.
  • efficient – we are shifting from reviewing all risk factors for every cancer to systematically scanning the evidence to identify which topics are likely to be the most fruitful areas of detailed study. Integrating more automation into the review process will be central to this.
  • inclusive – in addition to looking at cancer prevention, the work will expand to encompass cancer survivors. With improved diagnosis and treatment the good news is that there is a growing population of people living with and beyond cancer. The Global Cancer Update Programme will help us to understand how diet, nutrition and physical activity can improve long-term health and prolong survival after a cancer diagnosis.

There are four major themes to the work:

1. Cancer incidence

Looking at how a wide range of factors relating to diet, nutrition and physical activity as well as patterns of diet and lifestyle can affect cancer risk – either through decreasing risk or increasing it.

2. Cancer survivors

Focusing on the impact of diet, nutrition and physical activity on long-term health (cancer and non-cancer related morbidity, mortality and quality of life) after a cancer diagnosis. As part of this, we will look to determine for the first time the impact of diet, nutrition and physical activity on childhood cancer survivors.

3. Cancer mechanisms

Understanding the biological processes that underpin the links between diet, nutrition and physical activity and cancer.

4. Obesity

Ensuring previous work in relation to overweight and obesity remains up to date, given its critical role in increasing the risk of many cancer types. In addition, we will explore whether more specific guidance can be made for preventing obesity in adulthood and early life.

This comprehensive programme of work will allow us to look more deeply at how diet, nutrition and physical activity affect cancer risk and survival. In the next few years, the Global Cancer Update Programme will enable a more sophisticated understanding, with a more personalised approach to cancer prevention and survival than ever before.

> Find out more about our Global Cancer Update Programme